Mass. FFs vote 'no confidence' in chief after thin blue line flag controversy

In addition to stating that Hingham Fire Chief Steve Murphy mishandled the flag controversy, firefighters said he was "negligent in his duty to protect the health and welfare" of firefighters


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Audrey Cooney
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

HINGHAM, Mass. — Hingham firefighters unanimously voted to declare no confidence in Fire Chief Steve Murphy, citing issues including a mishandling of the recent controversy over "thin blue line" flags, poor communication and a failure to address unsafe working conditions.

"We find Chief Murphy to be negligent in his duty to protect the health and welfare of the firefighters of Hingham," Hingham Firefighters Local 2398 said in a letter to the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator dated Aug. 12.

Hingham firefighters voted
Hingham firefighters voted "no confidence" in Chief Steve Murphy, citing mishandling of a recent controversy over the thin blue line flag, poor communication and failure to address unsafe working conditions. (Photo/Hingham Fire and Emergency Management Facebook)

According to the three-page letter, union members took a vote of no confidence during their Aug. 11 meeting.

When reached by phone, Murphy declined to comment on the vote.

Poor communication and safety issues

The union alleges Murphy failed to complete promised meetings with each member of the department to hear thoughts and concerns about work. It claims he spent too much time completing tasks for the National Fire Academy, including taking days or weeks off at a time to visit the academy in Maryland, or writing papers while on duty in Hingham.

"Chief Murphy never conducted trainings with members, shared his expertise to move members of the department forward, and didn't in fact build or strengthen the Town of Hingham resource," the letter reads, saying he chose instead to focus on his personal career rather than helping other members of the Hingham department advance.

In general, the union said Murphy has been slow to respond to attempts at communication from both members of its executive board and rank-and-file members of the department. The group also says Murphy has been lax about addressing safety issues.

Mold has been growing in the air ducts of one of the fire station's living quarters for about two years, the union said. While the leak causing the mold has been repaired, bids for the work needed to remove the mold have sat on Murphy's desk for "several months," according to the letter. The letter also says he has been slow to change hiring practices to better fill vacancies in the department, a "potentially deadly issue."

"The safety of the firefighters of any fire department should be a Chief's top priority, and every effort should be made to protect that," the union wrote.

The union alleges Murphy has failed to show strong leadership over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he was absent from the station for three months earlier this year and communicated poorly with those still working from the station.

"Leadership. . . Is not a person who retreats to the safety of their home, leaving behind a third in command who is granted no decision-making abilities and is not communicated with by the Chief," the union wrote.

Thin blue line flag controversy

The union also takes issue with Murphy's response to a recent controversy over firefighters flying thin blue line flags from several of the town's fire trucks.

Last month, a resident emailed selectmen to ask the flags be removed. The email cited an informal town practice to not display political messaging on town property, and pointed out the flag's association with white supremacist groups. Murphy, along with Town Administrator Tom Mayo and then-Police Chief Glenn Olsson, agreed the flags should be taken down. Firefighters ultimately removed the flags, but not until after a contentious public battle with town and department leadership.

The union said at the time that the flags were flown from the trucks to honor police officers killed on the job, specifically Sergeant Michael Chesna, a Weymouth police officer killed on duty in 2018.

During a board of selectmen's meeting last month, several residents pointed to the thin blue line flag's association with white supremacists as a reason to remove the flags. Murphy spoke briefly during the meeting to answer a question regarding how long the flags have flown from Hingham fire trucks, but otherwise stayed quiet on the matter.

"At no time did Chief Murphy, who was on the Zoom call, speak up to defend the firefighters of his department," the union wrote in its letter. "The image and reputation of the firefighters of Local 2398 was being called into question and our Chief chose to separate himself from the amazing firefighters of this department to protect himself and his own image."

Murphy, a 20-year veteran of the department, became chief in 2018.

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©2020 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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